New unit to focus on mobile; British games veteran Martyn Brown head-hunting for publisher

Activision plans UK revival with new games development studio

Activision will once again expand its studio empire into the UK with a new outfit dedicated to creating mobile games, Develop can reveal.

The company has appointed Martyn Brown – a highly popular UK games veteran with access and contacts at numerous British studios – to interview, head-hunt and hire talent for the Activision studio.

Plans on where the new studio will be established have not been finalised, though Develop understands that individuals at various studios in the north of England have met with Brown to discuss job opportunities.

“We are investing in mobile initiatives and that includes a UK studio,” an Activision spokesperson confirmed to Develop, though declined to discuss the matter further.

Brown has declined to comment.

Trade groups Tiga and UKIE have both hailed Activision’s plan to reinvest in the UK, branding it as a “massive vote of confidence”.

Tax break rebound

Activision’s secret plan to revive its UK studio workforce sews together two crucial developments: The Treasury’s recent volte-face on games tax breaks, as well as the mobile games craze that continues to sweep the sector.

The publishing giant pulled away from UK games development in January 2011 when closing down Liverpool studio Bizarre Creations. About 200 game jobs were affected. Activision still owns another British studio – FreeStyleGames in Leamington Spa – though in a reduced capacity.

Activision’ withdrawal from UK games development came just six months after the Coalition government blocked Labour plans to introduce games tax breaks in the UK.

Weeks before Bizarre Creation’s closure in 2010, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick branded the tax break snub “a terrible mistake”.

Develop understands that Activision aggressively lobbied for games development tax breaks earlier this year – months before the Treasury reversed its position and approved the policy – and had indicated to civil servants that it wanted to hire British talent.

Activision’s new studio will not likely be formally revealed for a number of months.

Traditional publishers such as Capcom, Sega and Konami have made significant progress in the mobile games space, but it is Activision’s nearest rival – Electronic Arts – that is often perceived to have made the greatest progress.

Now, after a hesitant start, Activision is now producing games directly for smartphones. Mobile titles based on the Guitar Hero, Call of Duty and Skylanders series have all broken into the App Store games charts.

‘Massive vote of confidence’

Richard Wilson, CEO of UK trade body Tiga, hailed the move.

He said: “This is a massive vote of confidence in the UK games industry, and demonstrates that Tiga’s successful campaign for games tax relief is already bearing fruit.

“We have the talent, we have the tax breaks, and now we are winning the investment.”

Andy Payne, chairman of fellow games industry group UKIE, said: “I think this decision by Activision is to be applauded and welcomed by the whole of the UK games industry. It is a fabulous signal that the UK has significant mobile and social development talent in this fast moving and exciting space. We are confident that the UK government UK games industry will get fully behind this and any other initiatives like this.”

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